Disney’s The Lone Ranger Should Stay Dead

Last Friday Disney announced the cancellation of The Lone Ranger. With Johnny Depp set to star as Tonto and shooting scheduled to begin this fall, the move came as a shock. According to reports, however, the film’s $250 million budget proved a deal breaker.

Factor in the lackluster box office performance of this summer’s Cowboys & Aliens, another big-name, big-budget western (with sci-fi crossover), and Disney apparently decided that the film was too big a risk, even with a bankable star like Depp (who would, undoubtedly, along with director Gore Verbinski and executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, take a significant chunk off the film’s back end, adding to the budget woes).

Today comes news that Disney has given Verbinski and Bruckheimer a week to whittle the budget down to $220 million or lower. If the pair can do so, Disney might resurrect the project. Verbinski and Bruckheimer have launched their budget-cutting efforts by accepting a combined $10 million pay cut.

With other members of the production reluctant to take cuts, the director and producer are currently revamping the script. Much of the story’s Native American mystical elements will reportedly be removed, as will all plot points involving werewolves (both of these would require big special effects).

Wait. Werewolves?  In a Lone Ranger flick? The Native American mysticism is, in the least, modestly comprehensible. But werewolves? Even typing the words “werewolves” and “Lone Ranger “ in the same sentence, makes me glad Disney made this move. Moreover, with Bruckheimer and Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean series being largely overwrought, overhyped, and over produced, I feel doubly glad.

One need only look as far as last year’s brilliant True Grit for a model on making a quality western. That film, made for well under $50 million, was both a financial success and a critical darling. It sounds like Disney, though, was content to let Verbinski and Bruckheimer make Lone Ranger of the Caribbean until Cowboys & Aliens’ box-office failure forced them to pull their collective heads out of the horse muck.

Two-hundred-twenty-million dollars is still far too costly for a western and is a sure sign that, story-wise, Ranger’s headed in the wrong direction. Disney would be wise to force Verbinski and Bruckheimer to rethink the entire production and make it more similar in tone to 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger.

That film, while hardly a smashing commercial or critical success, at least stayed true to the character’s roots and to the western genre in general. It sounds like Verbinski and Bruckheimer are concerned with neither, but rather, only with making the biggest, loudest, effects-driven piece of Hollywood drivel possible.

To be sure, Depp is always interesting to watch and no doubt Ranger would make piles of cash (though it might need earn $1 billion to be profitable), but in this case, it might be better to see Depp take his talents (and his pocketbook) elsewhere. Actually, here’s hoping The Lone Ranger stays dead until other, more modest, budget-conscious filmmakers and storytellers come along to do the story and character justice.